New Cannabis Policy Reform: How to Read 2020 Election Results

This article was originally published on Medium, November 17, 2020.

Cannabis policy reform has been a major topic throughout the 2020 election cycle. While many state legislatures across the country have battled reluctance to pass cannabis policy reforms in recent years, cannabis policy reform was on the ballot in many states this election cycle and voters took action.

Breaking Down the Results

Results from November 3rd revealed five states approved ballot measures legalizing cannabis in some form.

Arizona, New Jersey, and Montana voters decided to legalize cannabis for persons over the age of 21. Mississippi voters chose to legalize medical cannabis. South Dakota voters legalized both in one sweep. These results bring legalization totals to 15 states for recreational cannabis and 35 states for medical cannabis.

United States Map of Cannabis Legalization as of November 11, 2020

Drug policy reform was further supported by the below, non-cannabis measures. Oregon voters legalized psilocybin, the active psychoactive ingredient in psychedelic mushrooms, for persons over the age of 21 as well as decriminalized possession of small amounts of drugs. Washington, D.C. voters also decided to decriminalize a wide range of psychedelics. These relatively progressive measures further indicate increasing focus on drug policy reform.

Federal Legalization OUTLOOK

Days after the election, the House Majority Leader Steny Hoyer (D-MD) announced that the MORE Act will be brought to the floor for a vote in December 2020. The MORE Act, introduced in July 2019 with little movement since, is a federal measure to end cannabis prohibition and expunge convictions for non-violent cannabis offenses.

While the MORE Act will likely pass the Democratically-controlled House, it’s unlikely to be taken up by the Republican-controlled Senate given Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell’s (R-KY) strong opposition. President-elect Joe Biden’s campaign promise for modest marijuana reform was joined by a concession on his past anti-drug policies in the final days leading up to the election. However, the Biden-Harris transition plan on racial equity released over the weekend did not include any specific mention of cannabis reform.

Despite its fate, the MORE Act’s passage on the House floor would mark an important milestone in the movement for reform at the federal level and help shift the conversation at the state levels.

Economic stimulus opportunities

Drug policy reforms offer an unparalleled opportunity to establish a new regulated industry as a boost to local and national economies with the bonus potential for scaled generational wealth creation. It is crucial for Black Americans, who have been disproportionately impacted by the War on Drugs, to be at the center of this economic opportunity.

From a hard dollar perspective, federal legalization of marijuana has the potential to fully untap an estimated $50–55 billion USD national market… for recreational marijuana alone. States nationwide have been battling significant budget shortfalls for years. The pain has only been exacerbated by the damage of COVID-19 pandemic impacts, including but not limited to key economic indicators: employment figures, industrial production, and consumer spending. By bringing operations and sales out of the black market into a regulated marketplace, states are able to stimulate employment and cash flow as well as generate resulting tax revenue to relieve the pain of budget deficits.

It is important to note that there are legitimate criticisms of the assumption that legalization means more tax revenue. The black market is well supported by high sales taxes and price markups on legal cannabis products, suggesting unlicensed trade may continue to live on past federal legalization.

Criminal Justice Reform

Economic opportunities associated with cannabis legalization is tightly tied with criminal justice reform activism that has repeatedly occupied the mainstage in American politics in recent years and months. National movements, local organizations, and common-interest alliances are consistently investing in increasing momentum for justice for the War on Drug’s victims. The campaign, ongoing since the early 1970s, has disproportionately affected and depressed persons of color, primarily Black Americans, over the last five decades.

Rather than attempting to summarize the important work being done on ground, I have compiled a mini-bank of recognized and respected organizations and resources:

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